I keep seeing references to the superiority or coaxial digital
interconnects versus optical ones, but no one says either
why or what the audible difference is. So my question is,
why are they better, and what is the audible difference? After
all, they are just sending a bunch of zeros and ones from
one place to another, what makes one better?
Each cable does indeed carry the same signal, a simple stream
of ones and zeroes - seems like that should be easy. In theory
the different types of digital cables (coaxial, TOSLINK optical,
and others) should not have any audible differences. However,
in theory rarely translates to in fact, which is the case
with these cable types.
The task of sending ones and zeroes through the wire is fairly
simple. A coaxial cable sends an electric signal with its
voltage or lack there of representing the digital bits. An
optical cable (TOSLINK as used by most people) sends pulses
of light to represent the same bits. The optical TOSLINK cable
uses thin, clear plastic fibers to transmit the pulses of
light. The problem with this design is that the light tends
to bounce around inside the cable, especially when the cable
is turned in fairly tight curves or extends long distances.
As the light bounces around, it throws off the timing of the
signal. A digital signal''s series of ones and zeroes should
arrive in a very exact time frame. When the bits do not arrive
at quite the right time we encounter jitter. Jitter is simply
a timing error, but this timing error can create audible distortion.
So transmitting the bits is not the only job of a cable, minimizing
(or not introducing) jitter is another important task.
Coaxial cables are subject to jitter problems, it is not
an issue for TOSLINK cables only, however, coax cables tend
to suffer from less jitter problems. Thus is the signal is
the same but the coaxial cable introduces less distortion
in the form of jitter timing errors the coax connection can
produce a more perfect signal. Is there a difference? Yes.
Is it audible? It can be. Should you be concerned? Not overly.
If you have the option between coaxial and TOSLINK digital
connections, go the coaxial route. If you have no option,
the differences are subtle and TOSLINK works fine as a transmission
format for digital bits.